Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 230-249)



Christine Russell

  230. What about the final recourse, though, which is the powers of the Secretary of State to call in applications? Do you both approve of that procedure continuing?
  (Mr Le Lay) Yes.
  (Mr Tugnutt) It is absolutely essential that you have somebody who is the ultimate goalkeeper, as it were.

Mrs Dunwoody

  231. Is your argument that they do not get in early enough? Is your argument that that is too late a decision-making process, and that the general public have not had an input at any point where they could influence the final decision?
  (Mr Tugnutt) No. Clearly there are consultation procedures on planning applications and so the public have an opportunity to be involved and to give evidence at a inquiry if the application is refused, or they have the ability to petition the Secretary of State to call in the application.

Christine Russell

  232. Is your argument that, at the moment, there is no democratic legitimacy regarding tall buildings—ie, Londoners have not been given the opportunity to say "Do you want tall buildings or not?", and, secondly, "Do you want them located here or not?". Is that your central problem?
  (Mr Tugnutt) Not really because, at the moment, the decision that the LPAC gives guidance is still in place—it has not been replaced by the Mayor's plan—but when that is finally adopted it will mean that local authority plans, the borough plans in London, will have to be in general conformity with that, so that is a problem that is some way down the line.
  (Mr Le Lay) One of the reasons for bringing in a unified authority for London was to overcome nimbyism, to overcome the system where you had 32 independent boroughs all making up their minds about things like tall buildings and all sorts of other policies: that there should be an overview for the whole of London and it does seem as though we are in danger of that overview being in the hands of one man.


  233. Is that not the whole idea of having an elected Mayor?
  (Mr Le Lay) Possibly, yes, but—

  Sir Paul Beresford: What you are advocating will bring what it sounds as though you want which is stagnation, because if you put a planning application in you have the local authority, then the GLA, then the Mayor, then the Government Office for London and the Secretary of State, and nothing will happen. It will all go to Frankfurt.

Mrs Dunwoody

  234. There are worse things that can happen!
  (Mr Le Lay) I think what we are more concerned about is the formulation of strategic policy, really.


  235. On that subject, you are fairly critical, both of you, of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, CABE. Why?
  (Mr Tugnutt) Because I feel that they are not accountable. They have obviously been appointed by the Secretary of State and I think it is a matter of concern that the present Chairman of CABE is somebody who has been active in commercial property development in London for some time and continues to be active.

  236. Is not that really a question of having someone who knows something about the subject in charge?
  (Mr Tugnutt) Certainly they should have access to the commercial realities, absolutely—there is no issue with that—but whether or not the Chairman of the body should be somebody who is actively engaged in property development in London is another matter. Equally the Mayor's special adviser, Lord Rogers, is somebody who is also involved in a large number of developments in London, and Assembly members have already expressed their reservations about potential for conflict of interest.

Sir Paul Beresford

  237. But he would be all right if he was the Prince of Wales' adviser on villages, would he, in your opinion?
  (Mr Tugnutt) It is a question of whether or not they are actively involved in commercial activity.


  238. Would it help if CABE met in public?
  (Mr Tugnutt) I think it certainly would and the same would go for English Heritage. I believe that there is a weakness there because, for instance, at the Heron inquiry there was a long discussion about whether or not the Commission of English Heritage took a vote on the Heron application.

  239. Did they?
  (Mr Tugnutt) I think you ought to ask them.

  240. I like to know the answers before I ask them!
  (Mr Tugnutt) Very often in committees, Chairman, as you will know, the chairman sums up the discussion and then dares anybody to disagree with him.

Mrs Dunwoody

  241. Usually chairmen can work out whether they have had a vote or not.
  (Mr Tugnutt) Or they get the spirit of the meeting but, to be serious about it, at lots of meetings there is not a formal vote but quite clearly a view that emerges and is summarised by the Chairman.


  242. The Chelsea Society is very worried about these buildings along the River Thames, but the river has changed in character, has it not? It used to be very interesting because of the level of river traffic; but most of that has disappeared. Would it not be nice to have some tall buildings reflected into the river?
  (Mr Le Lay) Not really, because it seems to me crucial that natural features such as parks and commons and rivers which are within our cities should not have their scale diminished. If you line the river with tall buildings it is going to appear like a corridor, and one of the great things about the Thames as opposed to the Seine, for example, is its width and the fact that it is tidal; it is a natural feature in the heart of the city. That was acknowledged by the old GLC and when the GLC had policies for tall buildings they said "No tall buildings near the river, none near Hyde Park or Clapham Common or Battersea Park or all the open spaces of London", so that their scale should remain the natural scale rather than be dominated by manmade artifices.

Sir Paul Beresford

  243. Has Chelsea Society's position on anything changed since 1920? Perhaps you could write to me on that rather than answer now.
  (Mr Le Lay) I have been looking back at what we were saying in 1920 and it is amazing how far-sighted we were!

  Sir Paul Beresford: I look forward to being amazed.


  244. Does it really matter whether we have ground scrapers or sky scrapers? Is the important thing not the quality of the architecture in either of them?
  (Mr Le Lay) You were asking about CABE and English Heritage. One of the real problems is that these organisations are dominated by distinguished eminent architects who happen to be also practising. Quality of architecture is not the only thing. If you have a tall building it does not matter what the quality is because what you are objecting to is the bulk of it, and it does seem to me that organisations like CABE and English Heritage need a good influx of what I would call ordinary people who are well informed. For example, you have a memorandum from the London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies. They represent something like 100 different amenity societies so why are they not represented on organisations like that?

  245. So what you are really saying to us is it does not matter how you design a skyscraper or however well it is designed, it is still a blot on the landscape?
  (Mr Le Lay) Quite.

  246. You are going to defend them in the right place, is that it?
  (Mr Tugnutt) No. What I wanted to say was that there was an appeal decision in the city in the 1980s concerning a tower designed by Mies van der Roehe who was generally regarded as one of the pre-eminent architects of the last century and, in turning down that application, the then Secretary of State said that however fine a new building was there should be a proper concern for the surroundings, and good architecture was not only a matter of good design but also a matter of respecting the context. Part of the definition, therefore, of a good building, I believe, is how it responds to its site, and that is something that has always been right. You should not say, "In abstract I am a marvellous piece of design; therefore I can automatically be approved". If you are going to be tall you have to be very good indeed, but first you have to make a decision as to whether or not you should have a tall building.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.

Examination of Witnesses

MR KEN LIVINGSTONE, Mayor of London, and MR GILES DOLPHIN, Planning Decisions Manager, examined.


  247. Can I welcome you to the third session this morning of our inquiry into tall buildings and ask you to identify yourselves, please?
  (Mr Livingstone) I am Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London.

  (Mr Dolphin) I am Giles Dolphin, Ken's head of planning decisions.

  248. Do either of you want to say anything by way of introduction?
  (Mr Livingstone) Could I just say that the context is important? It led me when I was campaigning for the election to make clear that, if elected, I would change the policy on density in London and the policy on height. The main influence on my thinking had been the present government's work, particularly under Lord Rogers, and I was particularly influenced by particular comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister when he reminded us that the density of a lot of the great Georgian terraces is much higher than anything we build today. I have the policy I have because London's population has risen from 6.8 million in the mid-1980s to 7.4 today; our estimates are that it will reach 8.1 million to 8.4 within 15 years, and in the last 25 years we have lost 600,000 jobs in manufacturing and gained 600,000 in business services. All the projections suggest we should expect another 500,000 jobs in business services over the next 15 years: that means you need to put in the transport infrastructure because, whether we like it or not, they concentrate in the city centre and a lot of the demand for the firms that wish to come here are for high buildings, a sort of landmark statement as they consolidate—often—their international headquarters operation in one city. It is a balance. We are talking about 15-20 tall buildings of the 40 storey plus over the next 15 years, and that needs to be set against some of the alarmist comments that we have seen about how London is going to become Manhattan. It is not. We are talking about a cluster in the north east section of the city; some further development at Canary Wharf; Stratford; hopefully at Croydon; and perhaps individual tall buildings over major rail termini such as London Bridge. That puts it more in context. We are still going to be recognisably London but hopefully with some graceful architectural award-winning designs that people will want to work in, which will add to our skyline.

Mrs Ellman

  249. In the interim guidance that you have issued, you give four reasons for wanting tall buildings in London. One of these is maintaining a supply of top quality floor space. Is that the major reason you have for wanting more tall buildings?
  (Mr Livingstone) It is driven by market forces, yes. There is a lot of firms who want something of the order of a million square feet and, as I am sure the City Corporation have told you, there is a limited amount of places in London where you can still do that in ground-hugging buildings, so it recognised those market forces. As I said, we are expecting half a million new business jobs. What is particularly striking has been the concentration of those around Liverpool Street station which fortunately is outside the protected sight lines of St Paul's and Westminster, not that you would have known that listening to some of the comments at the Heron inquiry.

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